Zappos: A Sales Giant Powered by Passionate People

Zappos is a true American success story.  Not only are they a financial powerhouse, but an amazing place to work. 

Zappos is an online retailer that sells shoes and other merchandise.  They have ap

Greg and some of the Zapponians!

proximately 1500 employees and are located in Las Vegas and at their distribution center in Kentucky.

For several years now, I have been reading about and watching Zappos.  In 2009 they were listed at Number 23 on Fortune magazine’s Top 100 Best Places to Work.  I wondered…are they a good place to work, or is it just a bunch of media hype and over blown exaggeration?  I was invited to take a tour and see for myself.

An enthusiastic Zapponian picked me up at my hotel in Las Vegas and drove me to their headquarters.  From the moment I entered their office until they returned me to the hotel, I was blown away.  For the few hours I was there, I felt like I was part of a family.  You could feel the electricity, the pride and a work culture so radically different than most organizations I have worked with.  This is no typical organization — they are Fired Up!

There are many things they do right at Zappos, but for sake of space I will highlight a few of them.

Leadership

Tony Hsieh is the CEO and co-founder.  I ran into Tony in their parking lot talking to some of his employees.  He is a down-to-earth, practical, non-pretentious kind of guy.  In fact, his cubicle sits in the middle of one his departments along with his employees.  He drives an ordinary car, wears t-shirts and looks and acts like everyone else at Zappos.  This was amazing to me when you consider Tony is worth over a billion dollars.  This Harvard grad understands creating a great place to work is not just about him—it is about creating a positive, customer-focused work culture that generates results.

Positive Work Culture

The genesis of the positive work environment at Zappos is driven by 10 guiding values they live and breathe every day.  These values guide the direction of the organization like the sails on a sailboat.

1. Deliver WOW through Service

2. Embrace and Drive Change

3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness

4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded

5. Pursue Growth and Learning

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8. Do More With Less

9. Be Passionate and Determined

10. Be Humble

The important difference between these values and others is how they were created.  Instead of a top-down driven approach like many other organizations, the employees themselves helped refine, shape and provide their own opinions.  When the employees have a say, there is alignment, acceptance and total employee engagement.

Consider the value, Pursue Growth and Learning.  Tony and his team believe in continuous learning.  They encourage everyone to read business books.  I saw stacks of business books on almost every desk I visited.  The interesting point I recognized is the culture and how they run their company is based on the modern management principles outlined in these books.  To reinforce their values and support ongoing learning, they invite speakers and authors to come speak at their “all hands” meetings. 

Hire the Right People

According to one of their HR managers, it is easier to get accepted at Harvard University than to get a job at Zappos.  Based on Jim Collin’s book, From Good to Great,” they believe if you hire the right people you will create a great company.  Not everyone is a match for Zappos.  The right people are.  Applicants may have four or more interviews before they are hired.  Then they must attend a four-week training program.  Finally, new employees are offered $2000 to leave if they decide Zappos is not the place they want to work.  I was told less than 2% take the money.

The Final Results

The principle is simple.  If you hire the right people, treat them well and put them in a high performance culture, your people will generate amazing results.  The results are clearly evident at Zappos.

Their sales figures are phenomenal.  In the past ten years they have grown from $1.6 million to $1.1 billion in sales. Seventy-five percent of their sales is based on repeat customers.  Despite their financial success, their number one motivation is not making money, but to deliver happiness to their customers, employees and vendors.  From my point of view, they do that better than most.

I would suggest you get Tony’s powerful new book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.  It is available on Amazon.

Go to this webpage to see pictures from my visit at Zappos and a video about the organization.

http://www.chartcourse.com/zapposphotos.html

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